Present-day Massachusetts was occupied by native peoples after the retreat of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago. By the time of European exploration and settlement the area was home to members of the Algonkian language group, including the following tribes:
- The Wampanoag—who occupied a swath of land from the Atlantic Ocean down to Narragansett Bay, including settlements on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket
- The Nauset—who lived on Cape Cod
- The Massachuset—who were the dominant force around Massachusetts Bay; their numbers were quickly reduced by European diseases; many of the survivors became “praying Indians”
- The Nipmuc—who lived in the interior areas near present-day [2172:]Worcester
- The Pocomtuc—who occupied lands along the Connecticut River in the west
- The Mahican Confederacy—who controlled the Berkshire mountain area and westward into New York.
The native population was sharply reduced by a great epidemic in 1616 and 1617, no doubt on account of smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans.
See Indian Wars.
See also Native American Cultural Regions map.